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The 15 Best European Films of 2015

21 January 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Aleksandra Stepniewicz

8. 45 Years (Great Britain) – Andrew Haigh

45 Years

45 Years is a domestic drama by Andrew Haigh, based on short story In Another Country by David Constantine. Beneath its seemingly simple plot is something deep and complicated.

Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) Marcer are a childless British couple preparing their 45th marrige aniversary party. A week before the big day Geoff receives a letter revealing that after 50 years the body of his ex- fiancee Katya has been found in Alpine crevasse. This event evokes the memories of his first love. Inevitably, Geoff’s happy marriage starts to witness sensitive and slow decay.

This story is a minimalistic picture with masterclass acting. It was screened in the main competition section of 65th Berlinale, where Rampling and Courtenay won Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor.

 

9. Room (Ireland) – Lenny Abrahamson

Room

Lenny Abrahamson is a director of relatively simple but intriguing stories that can linger in viewer’s mind for a long, long time.

Room is an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel released in 2010. Ma (Brie Larson) has been kidnapped at 17 by a guy called Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Ma gives birth to a boy (Jacob Tremblay). For the boy, the room they are imprisoned in is his only world. His whole life is based on rituals happening there – morning exercises, listening to book stories, playing games locking in the wardrobe at night – while the Old Nick comes to leave food and to hurt Ma.

After Jack turns 5 years old his mother decides to tell him that beyond the room is an exciting world. It’s the beginning of their fight for freedom. But in this case their successful escape is not the happy ending of the survival film, but another, even more important part of the story focused on post -traumatic stress disorder and the life after on uncharted territory. The film received nominations for 2016 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress.

 

10. Aferim! (Romania) – Radu Jude

Aferim

Aferim! is a western – like story set on Wallachia – a historical and geographical region of Romania. This third feature by Radu Jude is an intelligent, laughable gaze into the taboo subject of gypsy slavery that thrived in Romania from 13th – 14th century, until it was gradually resisted in 1840s and 1850s. It was shot in black and white on 35mm and it’s actually the second film dedicated to the topic after the Gypsy Girl in the Bedroom from 1923.

In 1835 in Wallachia, Gendarme Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) are bounty hunters. This time they are hired by the local nobleman Boyar Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija) to find and bring back Cafrin (Cuzin Toma) – a gypsy slave that must be punished for being implicated in an affair with Boyar’s wife.

On their hunting trip they meet people from different nationalities and faiths, and they impose their own prejudices against others. This xenophobia has been passed down from generation to generation and became a natural thing.

On their way home Costandin and Ionita celebrate catching Carafin but after seeing him facing the brutal punishment the boy raises ethical questions about slavery and returning him.

Aferim! – titled after an old Turkish word meaning bravo – brought Radu a Silver Bear for the Best Director at the Berlinale in 2015.

 

11. My Skinny Sister (Sweden) – Sanna Lenken

My Skinny Sister

My Skinny Sister ( Min lilla syster) is a first feature – length movie of Swedish director Sanna Lenken. The debut was premiered on Goteborg Film Festival and had its international first run at Berlinale.

Lenken’s film is a social drama about sisterhood and eating disorder. The director showed her interest in the subject in 2013 in her short film Eating Lunch that was nominated for a Guldbagge Award in 2014.

My Skinny Sister tells the story about jealousy, admiration and troubles that may destroy the family. Katja (Amy Deasismont) is a beautiful teenage girl who loves ice-skating. She is idolized with a bit of envy by her younger, homely sister Stella (Rebecka Josephson), who falls in love with Katja’s ice – skating coach Jacob (Maxim Mehmet).

The relationship between sisters changes when the younger sister discovers the older’s bulimia problem. Since then, their world is full of manipulations and lies that slowly lead to family tragedy.

 

12. Body (Poland) – Małgoszata Szumowska

Body (Poland)

Nowadays Polish movies are becoming a bit more popular in Europe. Each year more and more of them are authorized for international distribution.

Body (Polish title: Ciało/Body) is a drama directed by Małgorzata Szumowska, one of the most prominent polish directors at the moment.

The movie was screened in the main competition section of 65th Berlin International Film Festival. Szumowska won Silver Bear for the Best Director for this production.

Body is a simple story packed with allusions to controversial situations known from Polish news. There are three main characters: prosecutor Koprowicz (Janusz Gajos), his daughter Olga (Justyna Suwala) suffering from Bulimia and her unconventional therapist Anna (Maja Ostaszewska). Anna is also a medium and can communicate with the world of dead. She offers her unusual way to deal with loss to Olga and her father, so they can keep contact with Olga’s recently deceased mother.

Szumowska’s movie is not a tragic portrait of loss and salitude. It’s a mystic, ironic story about body, soul, spiritual development, religion and faith.

 

13. Ma Ma (Spain) – Julio Medem

Ma Ma (Spain)

Ma Ma is a Spanish drama filmed by one of the country’s leading directors – Julio Madem (Sex and Lucia, Chaotic Ana, The Red Squirrel). The movie is his first cooperation with Penelope Cruz. After almost a 6-year absence in national productions the actress got back to Spanish cinema, as the main character – Magda and a co- producer of the film.

The movie tells the story of an unemployed teacher, raising a son who is also a talented soccer player. In the opening scene Magda is diagnosed with breast cancer. And here starts a smiling – through – tears story of a strong woman fighting against life’s adversities.

The audience becomes a bystander of the protagonist’s spiritual transformation. Magda does not compromise to her destiny. Her illness and imminent death paradoxically makes her stronger and happier than ever before.

Cruz said the role was one of the most difficult and complex characters she has ever played.

 

14. The High Sun (Croatia) – Dalibor Matanic.

The High Sun (Croatia)

The history of the Balkan conflict is not a popular topic of film industry.

The High Sun (croatian title: Zvizdan), however, bravely attempts to capture the history of war- torn Yugoslavia through love stories.

The movie is divided into three short stories taking place over thirty years. The first one presents the forbidden love between two people living on the opposite sides of the border – one Croatian, the other one Serbian. The second one is a portrait of the landspace after the battle – the world is not ready to move on yet, there is no space for love or true feelings. The setting of third novel is 2011 – even though the war is over people in the shadow of insurmountable post-war trauma.

Talented actors such as Tihana Lazović and Goran Markovic are selected to star as different characters in each part. The High Sun was a first Croatian movie screened at Cannes Festival since the country’s independence in 1991 and it won a Jury Prize in 2015. It was also the country’s nomination for the best foreign – language film at the 88th Academy Awards.

 

15. The Wave (Norway) – Roar Uthaug

The Wave (Norway)

The Wave is a Hollywood-style catastrophic movie set in Norway. With its 6 milion euros budget it’s an impressive disaster thriller produced in Europe. It presents an breathtaking view of Scandinavian fjords and lakes, enabling the audience to experience the spectacular nordic atmosphere throughout the film.

The plot is set in the small, touristic rural town Geiranger, just below an unstable mountain that may collapse any time and destroy everything around with huge tidal wave. The protagonist – Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is a dedicated geologist working in an early warning centre. He is about to move to the city where a new job in an oil company is waiting for him.

The first hour of the film is an idyllic silence before the storm: beautiful people, breathtaking landscapes, cozy interiors. On the family’s last night in Geiranger, however, things are deteriorating. The rocks start falling into the lake and from then, the whole population of the town is left with just 10 minutes to save their lives on a higher ground before the wave washes in.

The Wave was Norwegian official submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, though not nominated.

Author Bio: Aleksandra Stepniewicz is a 26 year-old European Cinema lover based in Katowice, Poland. When not working full time as a Customer Service Advisor for Online Wedding Service, she is writing a Novel, cooking something delicious, visting Granny or enjoying movies in local arthouse.

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